So — you quit your job.
You’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.5 million Americans are quitting their job every month.
Maybe your reasons were negative: you were forced to resign, a coworker or boss made your life miserable, the commute was terrible, your workload was unsustainable, or some other stressor impacted you.
Maybe, your reasons were more positive: your spouse got a new job and you had to relocate, you were ready for a career change, or some other reason developed.
But, what can you say in your next job interview, when faced with that dreaded question:
Why did you leave your job?
You need to deliver an answer that makes the hiring manager feel comfortable:
You want the interviewer to think, “Got it. That seems reasonable.”
Then, their attention can be focused on assessing your talent and fit for their organization.
What You Need to Know About Answering “Why Did You Leave or Quit Your Last Job?”
You need to understand, really understand, that —
1. You are not “damaged goods.”
Many people who have a hiccup in their job history feel nervous.
They are afraid that this is a “black mark” that will keep them from getting hired again.
But, in a post-“Great Recession” world, if everyone who had an imperfect work history couldn’t get hired, there would be a huge talent shortage.
Quitting your last job does NOT make you unemployable.
The key to getting your next job will be to focus on how you can create value for their organization. Yes, you might have to calm their fears about why you left your last job, but that’s secondary.
3. A short answer is best.
Why did you quit? You don’t need a lengthy explanation.
Usually you can provide a clear, simple answer in less than 4 sentences.
Here’s an example:
I really enjoyed working at Company & Co and serving our clients. About a year ago, a new management team came in, realigned my division, and shifted my responsibilities. I decided to leave so that I could focus on finding a position where I could do my best work. Based on what I’ve learned so far, this job and organization seem like a great fit.
Remember the longer your answer, the more attention you are bringing to what can be a sensitive topic. If you try to share the more complicated version, you’re more likely to create doubt. Keep it short and simple.
3. Confidence is essential.
Quitting a job can be messy. Just thinking about the events leading up to your quitting, you may feel frustrated, angry, embarrassed or anxious. That’s normal.
But in an interview, these negative emotions are bad news.
If you sound stressed while talking about your separation, even with a great answer, you’re interviewer will feel stressed about you.
You need the interviewer feeling confident. You need to feel confident. And that means you have to feel okay about the circumstances around your quitting.
Sometimes, you can forgive the people who made your life difficult. Other times, you can separate the negative people from the overall situation.
Take the earlier example. This job seeker didn’t mention that the new management team acted like jerks. Instead, the answer focused on the bigger issue of being in a job that no longer fit.
I encourage you to do the same. “Close the book” on the old job. Acknowledge the courage it took to take the leap. Focus on now, why you are excited about what’s next, and on what opportunities you now have that weren’t available in your last job.
When it comes to tough questions, coming across confident and positive in your answers is just as important as your words.
4. Be ready to answer this question.
A bad answer to this question can cost you the job offer. So be ready for it. Take the time to prepare and practice a well thought out response.
Like in the example above:
- Carefully, explain the background situation (without getting personal or negative).
- Summarize the change that motivated you to quit (again, without getting personal or negative).
- Express enthusiasm for where you are going next.
Keep your answer short and simple.
Prepare extensively for the rest of the interview as well. Identify what they need and how you can solve their problems. Recognize your strengths and accomplishments.
Best Sample Answers for “Why Did You Leave or Quit Your Last Job?”
Why did you quit? You don’t need a lengthy explanation. Usually you can provide a clear, simple answer in less than 4 sentences.
Here’s are some additional examples:
- A new senior manager joined the organization, and, as a result, the management philosophy changed substantially. Because of the change, I was no longer a good fit for the team. I felt that it was better for all concerned that I move on. Based on what I’ve learned so far, this job and organization seem like a great fit.
- I decided to further my education. To do it more quickly and efficiently, working full-time was not an option. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the logistics industry [or whatever you did while attending school], but I graduated and am now ready to move on with my career. Based on what I’ve learned so far, this job and organization seem…
- Our department had a very high turnover rate, and I began to understand that there were some issues that I didn’t feel I could overcome. Based on what I’ve learned so far…
- I felt that I would have more opportunity for career growth as a [whatever you want] if I worked elsewhere. Based on what I’ve learned so far…
Remember the longer your answer, the more attention you are bringing to what can be a sensitive topic.
If you try to share a complicated answer, you are more likely to create doubt.
Keep your answer short and simple, but don’t forget to end with the statement of enthusiasm for the new opportunity you are interviewing for.
Bottom Line on Answering “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
By preparing the right way, you will feel confident and be ready for whatever questions the interviewer throws at you.
Answering the Common Job Interview Questions:
Questions About You:
- What Is Your Greatest Achievement or Accomplishment?
- Tell Me/Us About Yourself
- Why Should We Hire You?
- What Do You Want?
- Why Do You Want THIS Job?
- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
- What Is Your Greatest Strength?
- Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?
- What Is Your Current Salary?
- What Are Your Salary Expectations?
- When Can You Start?
- Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
- Smart Strategies to Answer to Behavioral Interview Questions
Handling Special Career Situations:
- Why Did You Quit Your Last Job
- After a Layoff: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- After Being Fired: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- Explain Your Gap in Employment
Questions About Them:
Questions for You to Ask Them:
- Do You Have Any Questions? — choose from 50+ good questions to ask them
- 5 Absolute Must-Ask Questions for the End of Your Next Interview
- The Second Interview: 5 Key Questions to Ask
- 45 Questions You Should NOT to Ask in Job Interviews
- 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist
- The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation
About the author…
Alan Carniol helps job seekers feel calm as cat in their interviews. His site Interview Success Formula teaches teaches how to conquer those “gotcha” interview questions that employers love to ask. Alan has been quoted and published in Forbes, US News and World Report, Mashable, Chicago Tribute, The Ladders and dozens of others. Connect with Alan and Interview Success Formula on Twitter @interviewsucess, LinkedIn, and Facebook.